The 2021 California Wildlife Day continued our tradition of collecting Art & Poetry and Science poster submissions from local schools. Submissions must feature a California native species. This year, we had over 100 art & poetry pieces, and almost 30 science posters and presentations. Follow the links to see each and every submission!
Despite facing the challenges of an unprecedented year, California Wildlife Day 2021 brought together communities and families to celebrate our plants and animals through a virtual two-day event. Carmel River Watershed Conservancy held the fourth annual CWD on March 20th and 21st with 33 live sessions featuring 43 speakers and presenters. 484 people registered for the virtual event. Despite social distancing and ‘zoom fatigue’, this community event still brought together like minded environmentalists and conservationists to celebrate wildlife from the Monterey Peninsula throughout the state of California.
The two-day virtual event included a variety of live sessions and recorded events. Despite the impossibility of in-person attendance, our sessions still created a place for families and children to learn about local species such as salamanders, condors, and skunks, and create nature inspired art and poetry with local artists and creatives. One such session, Flor y Canto: California Roots and Rhythmic Words, Bilingual Poetry Forum, with Aideed Medina, explored how to interpret the story of rivers, birds, and flowers through poetry and spoken word. Another popular session, Resilience of the Condors, with Linda Yamane and Kelly Sorenson, offered a rich visual story of the rehabilitation and recovery of the Condors of coastal California.
In addition to sessions that explore wildlife and nature, this year’s event focused on the complex issues of climate change. Two keynote sessions that dove into this topic were the Panel Discussion: How to Prepare for Wildfires, with local leaders and experts in wildfire and land management, and the Young Professionals in Climate Leadership, a panel discussion on how to create a career working on climate change. These sessions attracted diverse audiences with great questions and engagement. To view the recordings of any of these sessions check out our Recap Webpage!
CRWC is incredibly grateful to the local partners, supporters, speakers, and team for helping execute a successful event. The Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District was incredibly crucial as a co-host and long time supporter of this event. Thank you! Next spring we strive to host an in-person event, but still maintain some virtual, online content for ease and accessibility.
Wildfire mitigation efforts are well underway in the Carmel River watershed and greater Monterey County ahead of a likely active wildfire season. Currently, the Firewise USA communities within the Carmel River Watershed are Robles del Rio and Rancho Tierra Grande. More information on how to become a certified Firewise community can be found HERE.
The Monterey County Regional Fire District in collaboration with the Fire Safe Council of Monterey County and the Robles Firewise Group is hosting a “Defensible Space Bootcamp: Protecting Your Home from Wildfire” on Saturday, June 12th at the Carmel Valley Village Fire House. This is an in-person event dedicated to preparing the community for the upcoming wildfire season. Sessions will include informational presentations, demonstrations, and an online auction. All participants will also have the chance to win a $5,000 gift certificate from Ember Defense for a complete retrofit of all air vents of a home up to 3,000 sq ft. For more information on how to register, click HERE.
In May, the Carmel Valley Wildfire Mitigation Project hosted three webinars in collaboration with Thriving Earth Exchange. The sessions included information from panelists covering the topics: “Emergency Planning and Preparing for Evacuations,” “Moving Toward a Fire-Resilient Landscape (vegetation management),” and “Taking Steps Toward Community Wildfire Preparedness”. Recordings of these sessions are available for public viewing and can be found on the AGU YouTube Channel.
One should also take into consideration biodiversity while protecting structures. Fuel maintenance should be balanced with efforts to preserve native habitat within the natural wildfire regime. The Santa Lucia Conservancy has published a “Invasive Plant Management on The Santa Lucia Preserve: A Landowner’s Guide” which can be accessed HERE. It is a comprehensive guide which details how to properly identify and manage invasive weeds, which are a threat to native biodiversity and act as fuel for wildfires. The classic invasive species in our watershed is ‘genista’, and should be removed wherever it is found in the watershed.
Ongoing work at the Monterey County Resource Conservation District (RCD) includes the Carmel Valley Fuelbreak Project, which the RCD will propose during the fall round of CAL FIRE grants. Additionally, the Los Padres Strategic Community Fuelbreak Collaborative Project is in the late stages of analysis for the California Environmental Quality Act.
Other efforts within the County include a project at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve to remove seven acres of non-native invasive eucalyptus trees. The removal of the invasive tree is intended to facilitate the restoration of native grassland and coast live oak groves. This project is expected to improve habitat for threatened species of amphibians that reside within the Slough, including the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander and the California Red-legged frog.
The Monterey County Regional Fire District, as well as CalFire, have personnel available, upon request, to meet with people at their home or business and suggest ways that can make the property safer and more defensible in a wildfire. Many of the key items to address are simple things to do, such as removing debris from gutters or on roofing where an ember could land from a wildfire that is still quite a distance away.
MPWMD has reported Carmel River stream lengths available to migrating fish. That state, "Under natural conditions, in normal and above water years, adult steelhead can potentially spawn in a total of 73.7 miles of stream, including 28.7 miles of the Carmel River main stem, 34.3 miles of primary tributaries, and 10.8 miles of secondary tributaries (Table below)."
It has been an incredibly challenging year, but with every challenge comes new adaptations. This year due to the pandemic, we were not able to celebrate California Wildlife Day (CWD) 2020 in person. Though our event was cancelled, we were still able to honor the student science, art, and poetry celebrating California animals and the environments they live in through social media and our website’s digital gallery. As we look forward to 2021, we are excited to announce California Wildlife Day Virtual Celebration March 20-21, 2021. We hope that in 2022 we can return to our regular in-person event.
With the new technologies and online platforms available, we are bringing speakers, student art, and environmental activities to the digital space where we welcome all to join in and celebrate. Our dedicated team is working hard on the creation of this event and will share new information and updates when they become available on our California Wildlife Day website.
This year we are excited to open up student submissions again. Last year’s submissions will continue to be honored as we also welcome new science posters, art projects, and poetry submissions. For more information, follow these links to the Art and Poetry guidelines, and Scientific Poster submission information. We will also be working with several partner organizations across the state and will post any links to their CWD celebrations on our website as well.
Following a particularly active wildfire season in Monterey County, CWD 2021 will also focus on topics such as wildfire impacts to wildlife, efforts in Monterey County around wildfire prevention and planning, and how to maintain your property against wildfire while protecting native habitat.
The end of October 2020 marked the completion of the first iteration of the Carmel River Watershed health report card. The report card summarizes the conditions and trends of several watershed health indicators including water chemistry, steelhead counts, aquatic habitat barrier density, and streamflow patterns. Each indicator’s condition is based on a scale of zero to 100 and may be used for prioritizing and gauging the efficacy of management and restoration activities within the watershed.
Several low-scoring areas have already been flagged as priorities for management in the 2020 Carmel River Task Force Action Plan. Projects such as aquatic habitat barrier removals and steelhead rescues are addressing steelhead recovery and watershed connectivity issues throughout the watershed. Future projects such as the Carmel River FREE project will enhance river-floodplain connectivity in the lower watershed, while forbearance agreements and off-stream water storage are anticipated to increase in-stream flows during summer months. As these and other management strategies are implemented, updates to the report card every two years should capture the effects of these activities and reflect improvements to watershed health through higher scores for each indicator’s condition.
The next iteration of the report card will incorporate suggestions from members of the CRTF, the most recent data available for current indicators, and new indicators that could not be included in the first iteration. These indicators will include wildfire regime, spread of invasive vegetation and aquatic species, population dynamics of endangered species like the California red-legged frog, and lagoon water levels and water quality. This first iteration of the report card provides a preliminary indication of watershed health and underscores the necessity for several current and planned management activities and restoration projects. The addition of indicators in the next iteration will provide a more holistic assessment of watershed health.
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy (CRWC) and other area groups are working on several wildfire prevention and planning initiatives after an unprecedented wildfire season in California and in Monterey County.
The CAL FIRE California Climate Investments Program recently granted nearly $1 million in funds to the Fire Safe Council for Monterey County for fuel reduction, and approximately $4.8 million to the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County (RCDMC) to reduce fuel around County homes, maintain strategic fuelbreaks, increase forest and vegetation community resiliency, and control invasive plant species.
CRWC continues to work with a coalition of local stakeholders, including RCDMC’s Forest Health Coordinator, to prevent wildfire spread and plan evacuation routes. This work includes another grant proposal, spearheaded by RCDMC, which would fund strategic fuelbreak work in Carmel Valley.
CRWC has also applied for a Community Foundation for Monterey County grant to fund the addition of a Fire Regime indicator to its new Watershed Health Report Card. This indicator would track historical fire patterns to help prevent more intense and frequent wildfires through fire disrupting vegetation and modeling. The report card will also monitor the impacts of wildfire on watershed health over time. California Wildlife Day 2021 will include a special focus on wildfire impacts to wildlife and strategies for property owners who are interested in protecting their land and structures while protecting native habitat. For more information on on best management practices, please visit the Santa Lucia Conservancy invasive plant guide.
The Cypress Fire Protection District also continues to work with HOAs in its districts by supplying matching grant funds to support the reduction of fuel. Other Carmel Valley neighborhoods are exploring early warning systems, such as infrared imaging and satellites, in order to prevent wildfire spread.
The Office of Emergency Services is heading up emergency evacuation planning in the County later this year, and CRWC will be part of public review of the Carmel Valley zone.
Many of you readers have followed for decades the reports of “solutions” to the problems caused by the barrier beach and periodic flooding of the homes along the Lagoon. A Draft EIR stalled since early 2017, caused mostly by County budget shortfalls, has further delayed progress on solutions. Recently, however, hope has been rekindled by the County’s decision to provide funding to complete the EIR process, boosted by a $100k funding contribution from the County Service Area 1 (Carmel Point). The hiring of a new project leader (Shandy Carroll) and the creation of a Lagoon Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) have further boosted our hopes for a long-term solution. Ms. Carroll has the technical and project management expertise along with her new team to develop a much more realistic EIR, which will contain recommendations to manage the barrier beach (to avoid flooding) as well as protect the Scenic Road and the bluffs along Carmel River State Beach. Ms. Carroll issues monthly project updates and has plans to encourage community involvement in the EIR completion process. CRWC will be working collaboratively to expedite this EIR process and to ensure that a viable long term solution is developed and certified by the County Board of Supervisors.
DURING THE 2020 SEASON, THE CARMEL RIVER STEELHEAD ASSOCIATION RESCUED 12,182 FISH, OF WHICH 2,631 WERE OVER 1 YEARS OLD.
Janet Kung’s major at MIIS is international environmental policy with a specialization in Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. She is originally from Taiwan and grew up on the coast — surfing, fishing, and spending time with family. This outdoor time taught her to feel gratitude toward mother nature.
Janet received a B.A. in environmental literature and has worked as a program coordinator for a sea turtle conservation organization in Costa Rica. This experience reaffirmed her goal to pursue a career in ocean conservation. Science communication particularly fascinated her, leading her to intern with Carmel River Watershed Conservancy. She enjoys translating data from local agencies into digestible content for the public.
Janet recalls her favorite moment working with school children on the Carmel River: “My favorite activity was taking a trip to Garland to show children different kinds of invertebrates, and teach them about water quality and food sources for steelhead trout. My favorite memory was when a third-grade girl found a big stonefly under a rock in the river. She got scared and started crying. I explained to her the importance of the stonefly to the watershed and she realized she found something cool for everyone to see. I saw a sense of pride and wonder on her face. Seeing that change in perspective touched my heart deeply.”
When Janet isn’t working with the Conservancy or studying for class, her all-time favorite coastal watershed activity is surfing. The Carmel Beach provides one of the fastest and best rides on the peninsula. “I will do anything to ensure that this beautiful environment is protected,” says Janet.